They call him â€œDr. J.â€ The ABAâ€™s leading scorer in 1972-73, Julius creates the flow of the game. He has a great imagination of the court and is an artist with the basketball.
Those words are on the back of Julius Ervingâ€™s 73-74 basketball card, and that was my introduction to one of the games greats. I was too young to really know anything about rival leagues and fights for players, I just remember it was over at a friends house where his dad was watching basketball that I first saw that league with the funny-colored ball.
That memory and more came back to me the other day when, in unpacking from my recent move, I came across my binder of my best sports cards. There are baseball, football, a few hockey and, of course, basketball. The Dr. J in his third season ABA card â€” complete with a photo inset of him that canâ€™t contain his â€˜fro â€” is just one of them. And they bring back a flood of memories.
Thatâ€™s because my cards were not purchased with future value in mind. My first cards came when I would go with my dad to the local liquor store/food mart to pick up milk or eggs or whatever it was we needed â€” my dad would throw a pack of cards I picked out in with it. Iâ€™d open the cards in the car and show him what I got, and even try to chew the cardboard-quality gum inside. Later Iâ€™d get together with my two friends on the street, Chuck and Jeff, and weâ€™d trade. (I hesitate to think about how many Walter Payton rookie cards I traded away, I still have two but remember thinking I seemed to get one in every pack and who was this new guy anyway?) Later, when we were old enough, the three friends would ride our bikes to the clown liquor store in North Hollywood (I wonder if it is still there, the one with the huge clown as the sign) and buy our own cards.
Iâ€™ve got a few Dr, J cards from his ABA days with the Nets. Thereâ€™s also cards such as John Havlicek (â€œJohn was drafted by the Cleveland Brownsâ€ is the tidbit on him), Bill Walton, Adrian Dantley, Pete Maravich and more great players that I saw little of but got to learn about, and see the stats of, thanks to those cards.
Then there were the players I did get to see. I have the 73-74 and 74-75 Jerry West cards (West also has a photo inset headshot, but his hair fits within the circle). Thereâ€™s the card celebrating the 71-72 championship Lakers, compete with Wilt pulling down a rebound.
There are some cards that mean more to me now than they did then â€” Pat Riley, wearing the number 17 that now belongs to Andrew Bynum. Thereâ€™s Phil Jackson with the Knicks circa 74-75, where you can learn he was the dominant player at North Dakota University when he played there. I also have Phil in the oversized Tops cards from 76-77, where he looks almost graceful shooting a hook shot over Wes Unseld (I think).
Other cards just have players that I rarely think of any more but smile when I do â€” Artis Gilmore, Alvan Adams, David Thompson, Dave DeBusschere, Connie Hawkins, Jo Jo White and Cazzie Russell. Just to name a few.
It all transports me back to a time when basketball was more innocent and pure to me because I was those things. Itâ€™s good for me, before training camp starts and when Iâ€™m fretting over the Lakers lack of a bench, to remember that as much as I love the team I also love the game. The purity of it. And that sometimes I should just sit back and enjoy how much fun it is to watch Phoenix run the break or LeBron James make his teammates better. Thatâ€™s whatâ€™s really important. Iâ€™m glad I pulled out that binder.